Integrated pest management (IPM) steers away from the line of hard-core chemicals to kill detrimental bugs in favour of natural predators (biological controls), soft insecticides (preferably organic-, oil- or soap-based products) and bating and trapping (like sticky tapes and pheromone traps) to control crop pests.

According to Tony Bundock of the National Precision Growing Centre, there is evidence of IPM from way back in 2,500 BC when Sumerians used sulphur compounds to control insects and mites. The modern form of IPM gained popularity in late 1960 and has been developed into a major crop management toll for commercial horticulture.

I like to call IPM the bug-eat-bug method, but you should also consider the other factors recommended by this method of pest control.

First you need to identify which bugs are bugging your local area on a regular basis, then, determine the level of infestation that is likely to occur. Perhaps sticky traps combined with a soft insecticide will do the job for you. But, if you do find the problems are slightly bigger, then maybe introducing a low level of beneficials will be a more cost- and time-effective solution.

For large-scale growers, implementing an IPM program can be a complex and daunting project; however, for the small-scale grower, you might just see quicker and more economical results.

Here’s a quick looks at the pros and cons of IPM on a small scale:

Advantages

  • Reduced risk of chemical contamination to people, produce and the environment
  • Slows the development of resistance to pesticides
  • Pests do not develop resistance to beneficials
  • It’s a step closer to organic agriculture practices
  • It’s also a step closer to sustainable agriculture practices
  • There is a higher level of education and knowledge required. We need to understand the interactions between good and bad bugs and who is who’s predator
  • In large-scale growing situations, the good bugs have a better chance of multiplying because there are many more of them to begin with than in a smaller area; therefore, they leverage greater control over a larger environment
  • Beneficial bugs really need to be introduced to your garden before the pests infiltrate
  • If you grow a whole range of crops, you might require a whole range of different beneficials, as different bugs are attracted to different crops. Thus, this can become expensive

Disadvantages

Cost Factors with IPM

IPM looks expensive from the out-set, but by the time you take into consideration the cost of harsh chemicals and the time and labour used to treat an infestation, the results can be very cost-effective. Tony Bundock from the National Precision Growing Centre at Chisholm Institute of TAFE believes we should look at the cost as an investment rather than an expense because the beneficial bugs work tirelessly for you day and night. He suggests finding a large-scale local grower who might sell you beneficials from their commercial supply.

Considerations for Implementing Integrated Pest Management

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you decide travel the IPM road:

  • You need to be able to identify the bad from the good
  • You need to know what bugs are circulating your crop and which bugs are their natural predators
  • You need to introduce the beneficial bugs before major problems occur
  • You need to know the level of tolerance your crop has to any given bug
  • And you need to find a local biological control agent to assist you when you need predatory bugs or advice

The principle of IPM is about taking control over the whole season rather than just a week or two. Remember that the true benefits of an effective IPM program lie in introducing the beneficials early and not waiting for an infestation.

As with every greenhouse endeavour, do your research. Ask yourself, “Is IPM best suited to my area, my crops and the bugs that infiltrate my local area?” Seek out the advice of experts that can help you answer these questions; an informed decision is the best decision. A good place to start is the Australian Biological Control website at goodbugs.org. They offer a full list of bugs and their predators, along with loads of free expert advice.